St. Augustine leaders say panhandling is a ‘crisis'

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver is calling for an "aggressive approach" to panhandling.

Business owners told Action News Jax that their customers are often bothered, even harassed by panhandlers.

They said panhandlers are common around the St. Augustine Plaza and St. George Street.

“They’ve approached us; they’re run after my employees,” said Mary Mead, who owns Two Sparrows, a boutique next to the plaza. “It seems like it is getting worse.”

Back in August, we reported that the city stopped enforcing its ban on panhandling because court rulings across the country interpreted the act as free speech.

Now city leaders are trying to find a medium.

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline doesn't believe arresting the panhandlers is the best option.

Instead, she told Action News Jax there needs to be a greater investment in services for people who are homeless.

“We’d like to put together some kind of system that could actually facilitate money for services for the panhandlers, rather than going directly into the panhandlers’ hands,” she said.

Mead says she’s also sympathetic to the panhandlers’ situation, and even collects donations to the St. Francis House at her boutique.

“We want to support them, but in a healthy way,” Mead said.